Health.

General

Skunks are very tough animals, and will not show that they are hurt or sick. This increases the chance that a disease or condition is discovered at a late stage. Keep a close eye on your skunk and learn their normal and individual behavior (each skunk responds differently). Zoonoses are diseases and conditions transmitted from animals to humans. In the text a zoonosis will be marked with *. But people can also transmit diseases to animals. It is not always apparent that an animal is infected but the infection can therefore be transferring to humans and other animals. Normal hygiene guidelines can prevent a lot: Regular cleaning of accommodation, sleeping and toilet boxes and washing the hands with soap and plenty of water after any contact with animals, do not eat between the animals and the washing of hands before eating. When the suspicion of a zoonosis consult your physician immediately and / or veterinarian.

The average body temperature of a skunk is between 34.4 ° C (93.2 ° F) and 36.2 ° C (97.2 °F).

The heart beats 150-155 times a minute.

A skunk breathes 15 to 18 times per minute.

Under conditions of stress (eg a visit to the vet) to the heartbeat, breathing and body temperature may increase.

Click here for the bloodwork of skunks

 

Abscesses

An abscess is a quantity of pus inside a previously non-existing cavity. Abscesses are almost always due to a bacterial infection. This can be caused by sharp objects (splinters, bone fragments, shards, biting, scratching nails) that has pierced the place. The bacteria secrete toxins, causes cell death and resulting into an inflammation, which attracts immune cells, some of which also burst. This creates a capsulated cavity in the tissue filled with pus. Pus consists of liquefied dead tissue cells, live and dead bacteria and dead white blood cells. A superficial abscess can be recognized by an abnormal thickening. Abscesses can burst when the pressure becomes too high inside, then it can be dangerous because bacteria and toxins could get into the bloodstream. Abscesses need to be treated as soon as possible by a veterinarian. An intact abscess has no benefits of antibiotics because the capsule prevents the antibiotic to do its work. Usually, an abscess needs to be opened or surgically removed.

Body odor

A healthy neutered or spayed skunk is odorless. Thanks to the special structure of its hairs, they are able to take on the smell of their surroundings. In a bed of straw, they take on the smell of straw, on the lap of a perfumed lady they will smell like the perfume after a few minutes to perfume.

If a skunk has a strange body odor it usually indicates health problems. A worm infection or problems with the teeth can cause skunks to smell faul. Non neutered skunks can smell strong in the mating season to indicate to conspecifics that they are "ready".

In any case, there is often a problem with a stinky skunk and the cause will need to be resolved.

 

Bone fracture

When limbs are in a strange position they are usually fractured, sometimes even the broken bone comes through the skin. Sometimes it is difficult to see a fracture (fractures of the skull or pelvis), x-rays will have to confirm if this is indeed the case. In some cases a very complicated fracture or a shattered bone a cure is not always possible. Shattered limbs are usually amputated. It's amazing how quickly skunks adapt to live with one leg less. A common cause of fractures is Bone Density Loss (BDL). Always consult a vet on suspicion of a fracture.

Bone Density Loss (BDL)

This is a serious condition. A lack of calcium, vitamin D3 and phosphorus causes brittle bones. This may end in fractures and even loss of function of the limbs. BDL can only be determinened by a combination of an X-ray and blood tests. At an early stage there is no sign of osteoporosis on the X-ray, but there are abnormal values seen in the bloodwork. In an advanced stage blood levels are normal but on the X-rays it is very clear to see that the bones become thinner and more fragile. The diagnosis must be determined by a veterinarian. Treatment depends on the severity of BDL but will always be combined with a diet.

 

Coat

A skunk has very little coat care. Only during the molding periods in spring and fall some brushing may be needed. It is not necessary to wash a skunk. Skunks have a layer of sebum in the hair that makes it dirt resistant. Washing away the protective layer of sebum from the hair. This makes the coat actually less dirt resistant. Only when absolutely necessary such as when they have soiled themselves and it cannot be brushed out a bath would be no luxury.

A healthy skunk has a glossy coat with no bald spots and the white parts are realy white. A yellow or orange glow is due to an excessive sebum secretion. Increased sebum secretion often indicates an underlying problem. Worms, renal and liver disease are known causes of a yellow skunk.

Sometimes there is a more innocent explanation for a yellow skunk. Sebum production is stimulated by water and helps to make a skunk waterproof. "Outdoor" skunks sometimes turn yellow within a few hours after heavy rain or snowfall. A humid place to sleep contributes to this also, so make sure the skunkhouse has dry bedding. Skunks that are regularly bathed are more likely to turn yellow as they need to replace the washed away sebum.

 

Dental problems

In the wild skunks live to be 3 to 6 years old. Biologically speeking, their bodies do not last longer. It is striking that the teeth of a wild skunk that died a natural death has many teeth missing or has an overall poor condition. This is due to natural wear. In pet skunks the same pattern is seen. Dental problems often occur around the age between 3 and 6 years old. Some dental problems may be caused by a poor diet but the majority is due to natural wear and tear with age. Check your skunks teeth frequently so early tartar build up can be removed and bad teeth can be drawn to prevent bacterial infections. Symptoms of dental problems; Smelly breath, drooling, strong body odor, yellowing of the coat, red or bloody gums, worse eating or chewing food on one side of the mouth rather than alternating sides. Healthy dentures have white teeth with no cracks in the enamel or broken teeth. The gum has a pink color.

Diabetes

Diabetes may occur in older, severely fat skunks and skunks that have too much refined sugar in their diet. Also, there may be genetic predisposition. At the foundation it is known that three skunks from the same litter developed diabetes. Diabetes is incurable but treatment with insulin it may well be controlled. A veterinarian will test the skunk, and must "set". Then the owner will have to learn to inject insulin every day.

 

Fleas, lice, ticks and mites*

Regular treatments, at least four times a year, with spot-on drops for dogs prevent skunks to get infected with fleas, lice, ticks and mites. When skunks become nevertheless infected then it depends on the severity of the infection whether a treatment from the vet is needed. Fleas, lice, ticks and mites cause itching and in severe cases, anaemia or skin infection, skin/ear mites can cause malformation of ears and nose. Ticks can spread several diseases.

Gastric ulcer

A gastric ulcer is an inflammation of the stomach lining. By the action of gastric acid and infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (naturally present in the digestive tract) a gastric ulcer will not heal by itself. Symptoms include drooling, vomiting, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and weight loss. If an gastric ulcer is not treated a hole in the stomach can occur which causes peritonitis and abdominal inflammation. Also, the intestines are damaged so nutrient uptake is hampered. Treatment is often lengthy and involves the use of antacids, gastric liners, antibiotics and anti-nausea agents.

 

Handling

It is important to regularly handle and touch a skunk, take a look at the eyes, ears and teeth. A visit to the vet is made less stressful if it is accustomed to be touched. The best way to pick up a skunk is to scoop it with one hand underneath the belly and the other hand on the back to secure it. Never lift a skunk by its tail. Skunks can not bear their own weight on their tails when lifted. This may cause injured muscles, tendons and even dislocated vertabrae and may even result to paralysis.

 

Helminths*

Skunks are particularly susceptible to worms. Many imported skunk kits appaer to be packed with worms. Deworming should be done at least six times a year. Do not use substances with ivermectin or piperazine. This can lead to vomiting and or seizures. Some species of worms can cause illness in humans and/or other pets. Worm eggs are NOT effected by dewormers. Wash cloths and towels at high temperature to kill of the eggs. Skunkhouses can be cleaned after deworming with a steam cleaner.

 

Inoculations

Unlike for dogs, cats and ferrets, there are no specific vaccines for skunks. Inoculation is not without risk. It is known that skunks became seriously ill and even died after inoculation with the wrong vaccine. However, certain vaccinations are required if you want to cross national borders with your skunk.

 

Lyme Disease*

Lyme disease is caused by a Borrelia bacterium. These can be transmitted to humans and animals by ticks of the genus Ixodes.

There are strong suspicions that other blood-sucking insects can also spread these bacteria but this requires further investigation. Symptoms include: a typical red spot with a lighter center (erythema migrans) on the skin where the tick has bitten. In such cases there is always an infection. But in many cases there are no EM spots detected / noticed while Lyme disease is detected. Moreover, it is difficult to discover such a place under the thick fur coat of a skunk. Other symptoms include fever, pain and flu-like symptoms, joint pain, paralysis, meningitis and deafness. Treatment of Lyme Disease is a specific antibiotic therapy in combination with anti-inflammatories and is usually a long term treatment. Complete recovery is possible in a very early stage. Check with a suspected Lyme disease case always a vet and try to collect ticks to be identified.

Mobility

Mobility is the way an animal moves. Abnormal movements have always a cause. Known symptoms of abnormal mobility are; dragging the hindquarters, tail or paws, shaking of the head, seizures, tremours, rubbing the butt on the floor, limp, in short movements that are not typical. Causes may be, broken bones, nervous system disorders, parasites, muscle injuries and illnesses. Always consult a veterinarian in these cases.

Tremours and seizures can be caused by calcium deficiency or low blood sugar levels and diabetes.

Dragging the hind legs (paralysis), a limp may be caused by Lyme disease, spinal injuries and broken bones, nervous system disorders and extreme muscle injuries.

Sanding with the butt on the floor is usually the result of a worm infection or inflamed anal glands.

The shaking of the head can be caused by earinfections, earmites or blindness.

Nails

A skunk uses his long fingernails as tools. To eat, digging and grooming his coat. In nature nails are worn down naturally. In captivity, it is nevertheless necessary to regularly check and clip nails if necessary. Make sure there is not too much cut of and watch out for the vein that runs through the nail. Use a clipper that is suitable for clipping dog's nails as the nails are very hard. In most European countries it is prohibited to declaw. Declawing makes a skunk severely handicapped and should be seen as a form of mutilation.

Overweight

Globally, the percentage of overweight people is growing. Veterinarians see the same trend in pets. Overweight (both human and animal) is mainly caused by the combination of physical inactivity, poor nutrition and bad food habbits. Skunks are particularly susceptible to developing obesity. By nature, they have a tendency to build up fat reserves to get through times of scarcity and cold. Obesity has serious health effects, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, osteoarthritis and more ... Make sure that a skunk gets enough exercise, weigh them regularly and watch the diet. On the "food and weight" page there is more information about the weight of skunks.

 

Prolapse

A prolapse is a part of the intestines that come out of the rectum. It looks like a shiny red object hanging from the anus. Sometimes only up to an inch (a few cm) but in severe cases more than 2 ½ inches (7 cm) . The causes may be a worm infection, diarrhea, disease and stress. Never push it back yourself, the chance of the intestinal damage is present. Put the skunk in a clean carrier on a quiet and dark place. If the intestine doesn't automatically retracts within one hour or the skunk will scratch or bite at it, or rubs his butt on the floor veterinarian help should be consulted immediately. If waited too long without a treatment the intestine could die of due to compression of the intestine and an intestinal reconstruction must be done. This mostly causes skunks to become permanently incontinent. The pouch technique is a way of stitching the intestines inside the body so that the rectum stays in place. This technique also causes skunks to become incontinent in some cases. Therefore this technique should only be considered in those skunks whom often suffer from a prolapse with no obvious causes.

Ringworm/fungus infection*

Ringworm is caused by fungus (Trichophyton and Microsporum species are the most common) and not a worm or mite as is often thought. Many animals and people carry them without symptoms. A fungus reproduces through spores, which can in brushes, pens, baskets and blankets, and in this way, other animals and humans become infected. When an animal is infected with a fungus, all other animals and people that came in close contact / have been in close contact need to be tested and treated to prevent further spread. Also brushes, pens, baskets and rugs should be steam cleaned or washed at high temperatures to kill the spores. Ringworm is expressed in round bald patches with a red border. Sometimes there are flakes of skin to be seen and there may be itching. In older fungus spots that are starting to heal develop new hair in the middle, and the typical ringworm ring results which gave its name. Some vets use a Wood's lamp (black light) to detect fungus causing them to fluorise. This does not work on Trichophyton. A fungal culture provides more security.

 

Spaying/Neutering

Skunks have an induced ovulation. This means that the ovulation is triggered by chasing and biting the females in the neck area by the males. Now in the wild the territory of a skunk is quite large and a female has numerous ways to escape or avoid a male if she is not willing /ready. In a common household a female skunk could never escape the harasments of the male skunk and such mating rituals could happen to end very nasty. Neutered and spayed skunks have more stable hormone levels and are therefore less susceptible to mood swings when mating season arrives. It minimizes the risk of tumors and moreover, unspayed females may not come out of heat if they have not mated and can devellop bone marrow depression. This causes kidney and liver failure and ultamately death. This induced ovulation can also be caused in a female skunk when other household pets (even if it is playful behavior) chase them. If the females are not spayed they risk not coming out of heat and may die because of that. So if you don't breed skunks, have them spayed and neutered.

Wounds

Superficial wounds such as scrapes, scratches from nails and teeth can be cleaned with water and a dermal desinfectant until they are healed. If an infections occur there counsel a veterinarian. Large and deep or open wounds should always be treated by a veterinarian. Therefore do not wait too long, the animal is in pain and infections occur very quickly. Concerning eye injuries one should also counsel a veterinarian. There might be something in the eye that needs to be removed.

Allways check your veterinarian first if you have questions about health or medical issues!

References

Own experiences

Helminths of Sympatric Striped, Hog-nosed and Spotted skunks in West-Central Texas S.A. Neiswenter, D.B. Pence and R.C. Dowler

The Biology of the Striped Skunk B.J. Verts

Effects of Surgical Implantations of Temperature Dataloggers on Reproduction of Captive Striped Skunks Y.T. Hwang, Gentes, S. Lariviére and F. Messier

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